Update: Congratulations to Laura (lane.family@) and Sheila (sheilasmith2000@). You should each have an email from me with instructions on how to claim your prize!
Two weeks ago Mr. Crumbs and I flew to a wedding. We boarded two airplanes to get there, and another two airplanes to get home.
Every single one of the planes was delayed.
- Missing flight paperwork?
- Need to refuel after 15 minutes of taxiing?
- Touch and go fog at LAX?
- Airplane a no-show?
- Need to change airlines?
- All of the above?
The time spent with family was fun. The to and from? Not so much.
There we were, sitting in our seats with our seatbelts securely fastened, not really knowing if we were EVER going to take off. My stomach let out a tiny pain that only the well-trained body can recognize. The smoothie I had for breakfast had officially run its course. I was hungry.
As visions of sugar plums and tacos danced through my head, I traded in a dollar spot Sudoku book for my trusty spiral notebook and started to plan our menus for the month (which I shared last week).
With an ever increasing appetite, my imagination ran wild. Huge and exquisitely prepared meals filled the days. Lots of freshly baked goods and desserts were essential for every meal. Four weeks of glorious food bliss were headed our way!
I held out the notebook to admire my handiwork and I thought to myself -
Am I crazy? I don’t have time for all of that!
I shook my head and brushed off the eraser shavings from the pages. I don’t want to spend every day, all day cooking. My family doesn’t need gourmet. With the unpredictable appetites of a commuter bicyclist and two young children, leftovers nights are a must!
We’re all in the same boat. We need easy. We need healthy. We need to work when it’s worth it and welcome reprieve when it matters.
Enter the list of “easy meals.” These are the meals that I can make in 30 minutes or less for busy nights or even a night when I need a break in the kitchen. Lucky for me, these are also some of my family’s favorites.
DIY Salad: There’s almost always a container of washed and chopped lettuce in our fridge. Pull this out with any other fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts that we have and dinner is done.
Pasta: Like the lettuce, we almost always have a jar of homemade spaghetti sauce in the freezer. If not, there’s pesto in the fridge. If all else fails, a few smashed cloves of garlic and cheap butter are delicious too. Choose whatever shape pasta is available and call it a night.
Gourmet Grilled Cheese: While my family doesn’t need gourmet, it’s kinda fun to spruce up “boring” meals. Slicing fruit takes less than a minute and mixing up the cheeses offers plenty of sandwich options.
Stir-Fry: The perfect way to use up random pieces of leftover meat and veggies. Toss in some soy sauce and ginger and serve!
Pulled BBQ Pork/Chicken: Let the crockpot do the work and shred the meat with a fork before serving. Homemade rolls can be made ahead of time in batches and frozen until the day of.
Quesadillas: It’s like taco night, but on a griddle with extra cheese. Keep it simple (meat and cheese) or add in leftover vegetables too. Homemade salsa and you’ve got a winner.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are simply my go-to meals when I know there won’t be time to cook. Or I’ll be too exhausted from sitting on two airplanes and in multiple terminals to bother making something else.
Create Your Own Easy Meal
Despite all the bad hype that pre-packaged and frozen foods get (even myself being a culprit of the smack talk), not all the manufacturers are trying to make it difficult for us to eat good. Some of them are trying to make it easy!
Farm Rich is one of the good guys. Their focus is to “make wholesome, easy-to-prepare snacks sure to please the entire family,” and they’re right on the mark with most of their products.
To be honest with you, I was slightly hesitant when they contacted me to try their products. I knew their stuff was frozen and I normally snub my nose at the thought of even browsing that isle (see “smack talk” comment above for further clarification).
So I went to their website and did some googling and read some labels.
As it turns out, their stuff isn’t so bad after all. Take for example one of their most popular items, the mozzarella sticks. They’re made with 100% real cheese, the breading contains wheat flour (instead of the more common and less nutrient filled white flour) and there’s no hydrogenated oils or monosodium glutamate or any of those other long-named commonly-found yet unknown toxins.
Another good side dish are the jalapeño poppers. They’re also made with 100% real cheese, contain wheat in the breading and no creepy ingredients are named.
Looking for a main meal? Try the original meatballs. Four main ingredients with some seasonings – and that’s it.
The key to buying (and enjoying) pre-packaged items is to aim for simplicity. Because…. (dun dun dun)…. The more complicated the item, the more ingredients it takes to pull it off. The more ingredients listed, the greater the chances are we won’t know what they all are.
Take for example the mini quesadillas. It only takes a few ingredients to make them fresh at home, but imagine what it takes to prepare them so that they cook up crispy on the outside, yet melted gooey on the inside, in an oven, despite being frozen. These had a very long ingredient list with some items that may raise a red flag.
But one bad apple shouldn’t ruin the whole orchard.
We cook from scratch whenever we can, so taking the night off and letting someone else do the work is a welcomed bread. Being a day care teacher, private chef, housekeeper, laundry service, chauffeur and family CEO takes a lot of work. Mozzarella sticks are one of Mr. Crumbs’ favorite snacky foods and I enjoy a clean oven too much to attempt to make them on my own. Besides, who doesn’t need a night off every now and then?
Disclosure: I received a sample product for review. All opinions are my own (and the cheese sticks are really good!).